Opinion: Too early to judge Obama’s gun-control reform

This story ran in USA TODAY College on January 18, 2013.

This story ran in USA TODAY College on January 18, 2013.

President Obama vowed Wednesday to implement a slew of schismatic gun-safety changes, raising questions and complaints for many Americans. But among the Second Amendment debates and calls for bolder reform, few are discussing the legislation required to actually change gun policy or the vagueness of many propositions. Executive orders only go as far as Congress is willing to take them — and contrary to what seems to be popular belief, the president didn’t even sign any.

What he did do was initiate 23 “executive actions,”a technicality that seems to be missing from most conversations regarding the controversial options the president proposed. By definition, an executive action may be anything the president does. Some of those presented Wednesday seem more like checklist items than legislative initiatives. This distinction has been lost in the noise, and we need to be paying closer attention to the sounds in the background. But the president did issue three “presidential memoranda,” which, as of now, are the only executive decisions that may be carried out in the near future.

We must learn to discern the elements of our political system. Without a clear understanding of the differences between executive orders, memoranda and actions, we cannot offer meaningful feedback or truly participate in the political process. In addition, our elected officials must clearly outline their intentions.

Vagueness is not a new problem in our political system. When Obama unveiled the hefty Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in 2010, many Americans were in a fog, unsure of the document’s implications. In March, a Stanford University survey found respondents could only identify one of the bill’s 12 provisions with high certainty.

Now, a similar problem is appearing. Many Americans don’t know which of the 23 provisions are enforceable by law. Even worse, they don’t know what many of them entail. The unknown definition of “assault weapon” isn’t raising enough questions, nor is the meaning of “relevant data” required for a background check. Obama said he intends to “maximize enforcement efforts to prevent gun violence and prosecute gun crime,” which include any number of new strategies.

The rampant misunderstanding regarding gun-control reform has infiltrated social media, news organizations and everyday conversation. Not only is it unclear what is within Obama’s power to change, his intended provisions are still murky. If we aren’t all on the same page, we can’t voice our opinions, support our officials or initiate change. When Obama concluded his press conference Wednesday, he asked all Americans to take responsibility for ending gun violence — not just Congress. But until we know what we’re supporting, it will be hard to demand change.

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